Pastor Dale E. Austin Luke 24:13-35
As we study the scriptures, sometimes our familiarity with the text can actually keep us from seeing what’s really there or from gaining a new perspective. We start to listen or to read, but then we realize that we already know this story. . . so our minds fill in the details and we don’t realize that we aren’t really paying attention anymore. We’re just hearing the same story that we thought we’ve heard for years and years. Same old, same old.
For instance, today we have two individuals walking down the road to their hometown of Emmaus. This first traveler is named Cleopas. We’re never told the identity of the second traveler. Consequently, since the time of the early church, we have assumed the second traveler to be another man. Luke gives us no such indication, but we’ve heard the story so many times that we don’t stop to consider any other possibility. The more likely truth, however, is that the second traveler is Cleopas’ wife. The evidence is there – but we’ve ignored it: Upon their arrival, they go to the same home; they live together. But the most damning evidence of this fairly obvious truth is that she is never mentioned by name, nor does she say a word. This blatant dismissal of women is, sadly, typical of writers of that time. Women weren’t even second-class citizens – they weren’t citizens at all.
Well, as Cleopas and his wife make their way toward their home, they are joined by Jesus. They know the details of Jesus’ story quite well. They are familiar with the rumors of resurrection; and it’s their very familiarity with the story which keeps them from realizing the truth about their companion. They understand that Jesus died and was buried. But the stories of his resurrection are nothing more to them than rumors. (“Yeah, we’ve heard, but we’re just not ready to accept the possibility.) So they don’t recognize Jesus – even as he walks alongside them.
In order to help them to see and understand, Jesus goes back over their scriptures, reminding them of things they had forgotten. Piece by piece, he puts together the story of the Messiah for them. He opens the Sacred Word to them and helps them to understand why events have happened the way that they have. Even so, Cleopas and his wife still don’t “see” Jesus in this person walking beside them. They see only a stranger, though one who has an unusually marvelous grasp of the scriptures!
It isn’t until they are at home that they finally begin to “see” Jesus for who he really is. Even then, it takes an act of incredible brashness on Jesus’ part. As a guest at their table, he instead assumes the role of host as he picks up the bread, blesses it and breaks it. Only then, having heard the word and shared in what would become the central sacrament of the Christian faith, do they finally recognize the risen Christ in their midst. At last their eyes are opened.
For Cleopas and his wife, it takes both Word and Sacrament to make the story clear. That still remains true today.
The story alone isn’t sufficient, because we are too familiar with it to hear the new twist which Jesus’ resurrection adds to it. Our familiarity with the story and even with the sacrament itself can sometimes blind us to what is really happening. Christ comes to meet us, to dine with us – even to serve as the host as he blesses us. But we see only bread and juice. We don’t see the risen Christ meeting us at the table with open arms. Like Cleopas and his wife, we come with blinders, seeing only what we expect to see and hearing only what we expect to hear.
Jesus, however, invites us to come with hope and with expectation to see what we may have missed before.
He invites us to hear the Word of God and to experience the Sacrament in such a way that, through the joining of the two, we gain new insights and we begin to see him joining us at the table. Then, with our opened eyes, he invites us to recognize him walking along the roadway with us each and every day.
He’s there. We don’t always see him, but he’s there – a constant companion and friend, helping us to understand. And to see.